By Sharon Peters
Four years ago, when I first saw Faces of Ecstasy by Joani Blank and Ray Glass, I said it was far and away the most interesting erotic film I had seen in months. I just saw the newest, tightened-down version, and I’d still say the same thing.
The title is literally true; this video puts faces of women and men center screen experiencing arousal to orgasm. The premise was that simple. Producer/director Blank and director/videographer/editor Ray Glass set up at a Queen of Heaven San Francisco sex party and then asked people if they would care "to come on camera."
And did they! Some people used vibrators, some were pleasured orally, some used their fingers, and they all got off. The result is a montage of 13 people. Revolving from face to face, the film traces the human sexual response cycle.
The set-up for Faces of Ecstasy was even simpler than the premise: A single overhead camera framed to show only the head and shoulders of each person and the pillow under their head. The odd nipple or back-of-a-lover’s-head occasionally pops up; usually when the person is thrashing so much they forget to lie in frame. But basically the only part of the body shown is the face, straight on.
Is this erotic? Emphatically yes. If you are aroused, as I am, by the changes in a lover’s face, the glazing of their eyes, the flared nostrils, the flushed cheeks, the charged breathing and those exquisite little intakes of breath that lead so powerfully in full flush to those full-throated moans...well, then you will find this wonderful video a major turn on -- mentally as well as physically.
I say this without reservation, even though the video has clear technical and aesthetic limitations. One annoying aspect of the camera angle used is that when people become aroused, they tend to throw their heads back. The more turned on they are, the farther back the head tilts, and the more open the mouth is. Nose too. This is not usually a person’s most attractive facial angle.
Nonetheless, what makes Faces of Ecstasy a great film is precisely what so-called amateur video promises, but rarely delivers. Call it verisimilitude, call it authentic experience. This is not adult film "acting" going on here, it’s exhibitionism from people so comfortable in their physical beings that they’re allowing us to gaze into their eyes while they’re baring their souls. Whew.
Faces of Ecstasy is divided into two sections. After the montage of faces, it presents the complete videoed sexual cycles of one woman, the well-known dom Mistress Midori, whose segment goes on for nearly 22 highly charged minutes.
I’ve now shown this video to two people, J., my longtime lover, and a woman friend who confided later that after leaving my apartment she went home, plugged in her vibrator and "masturbated furiously." She indeed liked the montage a lot, and I take her comment as a pretty strong recommendation from a woman not easily moved by video sex.
J. allowed that he liked the montage, but was much more interested in the Midori alone sequences, because it was "like being with a new lover." J. said it took him three days to get through it all. "I kept ejaculating, and then stopping the tape at that point." Mistress Midori, he says, looks like some "exotic, half Japanese, half European flower." And that’s exactly what she is.
I told J. I appreciated his candor, and had to confess to him that I’m pretty much in agreement on this myself. I liked all of the video enormously, but Midori’s performance -- if that is the right word -- is something rare on video, an intimacy that is almost unnerving and powerfully erotic. Even the stiffest-lipped clinician would have a hard time staying aloof. It’s beyond male/female or even gay/straight; it’s raw personal intensity. I’m probably a Kinsey 2, and she gets to me every time I show this to somebody.
This tape is a dream tool for helping pre-orgasmic women observe the joy of sex in a completely non-threatening way. For the already orgasmic it’s quite a tune up. And I think I’m glad I live half a continent away from this woman. She’s dangerous.
Over the years, Joani Blank tells me she’s had precious little luck convincing national video distributors to carry Faces of Ecstasy because, they tell her, it’s "not explicit enough." To me, this attitude is like an erotic museum turning down a chance to show the "Mona Lisa" because her breasts aren’t exposed.
I think this video is among the hottest tickets going. It may not be a turn on for the morons who confuse inflated bosoms and in-your-face gynecological shots of shaved vulvas with sexiness, but for people who can comprehend the genuine joy of sex, this video is a must see.